Once upon a time, there was a man who was honest and fair …
“It seems that Truly Nolen worked for J.E. in the early years, and when Truly decided to leave Western and start a business in Fla., J.E. wished him the best. A few months later (as Truly tells the story) he received a check from J.E with a note. Th note said that the enclosed check was one that Truly had earned as a result of a sale. Truly said, ‘I was amazed that J.E. had tracked me down and sent the check. He didn’t have to do that since I had left Western.’ Truly further stated that he will always remember J.E.’s honesty and integrity.” — Contributed by William Kolbe, Parsippany, N.J.
J.E. Sameth, founder of Western Pest Services, Parsippany, N.J., is a 1998 inductee into the Pest Management Professional (PMP — formerly Pest Control) Hall of Fame. The words readers’ nominations used most often to describe him include ethical, honest, leader and integrity. Could there be any words sweeter than those for a man, who gave 70 years of his life to an industry, to hear about him?
In 1997, the 91-year-old Sameth was regularly coming into the office as chairman of the board until his official retirement early in 1998. His sons Bob, president and Dick, vice president, now operate the company. His daughter, Jeanne Burke, is Western’s corporate secretary. They all work diligently to maintain the same ideals set up by their father.
“Dad always tried to treat people fairly, and treat them the way he would like to be treated himself,” recounts Bob. “This applies to both employees and the public.”
The observations from reader nominations were overwhelming about how well J.E. treated his employees. His sons are not surprised.
“There are no gray areas when dealing with employees or the public, either it’s right or it’s wrong,” states Dick. “We treat employees the same today and tomorrow.”
Dick believes there’s no question that this sort of climate at Western Pest Services is a result of his Dad’s influence throughout the years.
“When dealing with a customer he could always reverse the situation and consider how he would like to be treated if he were on the receiving end of a similar situation,” Bob adds.
“The culture in our company, which started with Dad, and has been passed down throughout the years, is that employees know how to do with the public.
“I think this is one of the main reasons for our success,” he stresses. “We have a lot of employees who enjoy working for the company because of what it stands for, and that is fairness.”
J.E. is the oldest of seven children, born in West Virginia in 1908. In 1925, at 17 years of age, he moved to New York, where he worked on the piers to save enough money to bring his parents and younger brothers and sisters from West Virginia to the New Jersey area.
Three years later, he started his own pest control company with his father, Maurice, and his sister, Ailene. These were the first three employees of Western. They began their pest control operation in Newark, New Jersey, in the basement of a house in February 1928.
As Dick and Bob recall their father telling the story, their father grandfather and aunt literally put potential suggestions into a hat to choose the company’s name.
“In their mind, they knew the company would be big, and they wanted something that would connote something big,” Dick said.
Other possibilities included International, United, Federal, but out of the hat came Western — and the name stuck.
True to their inclinations, the company did become bigger. Eventually, as Western grew, they moved the business to a commercial building, and then later moved again to its present location in Parsippany. At the time of this writing, the company was made of 28 offices spread out around New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and Florida. Ironically, as most hat picks would have it, today “Western” services most of the East.
In the beginning, J.E.’s expertise was more on the business side of running a pest control operation than it was on the entomology side. According to Dick, J.E. relied heavily on the knowledge of Dr. Baily Pepper, who was chairman of the department of entomology at Rutgers University, and subsequently, Dr. John Schmidt after Pepper’s retirement, for training.
“Both individuals were exceptional teachers and very committed to upgrading the pest control standards in New Jersey,” says Dick.
If J.E. had one person he would consider a mentor, his sons believe it would be Schmidt.
“When Dad got into business, he had a thirst for knowledge. Dad soaked up knowledge from John Schmidt, who was willing to give up his time and his knowledge to the New Jersey Pest Control association,” says Bob. “Dad may have had some innate business qualities, but he didn’t have technical knowledge of the pest control business, and much of that knowledge came to him from John Schmidt.”
So, why was the company so successful? Dick believes it was the determination of his father to bring a level of professionalism to the industry and his company. As demonstration of his commitment to the industry, J.E. helped found the New Jersey Pest Control Association (NJPCA), as well as the National Pest Control Association (now, the National Pest Management Association). He worked closely with Bill Buettner, who is also a member of this year’s Hall of Fame induction class. Buettner was the first director of the NPCA, and a very good friend to Sameth.
J.E. was also responsible for the appointment of Dr. Ralph Heal, an entomologist from Merck and Col, as the technical director of the NPCA. Heal later became the associations’ director following Buettner’s death. J.E. was interested in helping not only his company grow, but the industry as a whole. One way he helped foster that growth was Copesan. Copesan enables pest control companies from local and regional office to sell their services on a regional and national basis. J.E. worked Dr. H.K. Steckel, Harvey Sturgeon, B.W. Elredge, J.C. Redd, Henry Turrie and I.B. Carncross to start Copesan in 1956. “Copesan” is derived from coordinated pest control and sanitation.
In addition, J.E. also established Residex, a chemical distribution company. Residex not only helps Western, but serves the industry as well.
“During the war [World War II], we had difficulty getting quality materials,” says Dick. “So, we decided to set up our own distribution company.”
Residex, which was established in 1947, is headquartered in Clark, N.J., and provides products to pest control operators (PCOs) in the eastern half of the country.
Both of J.E.’s sons have been touched by their father’s influence, and try to maintain the same ideals by which he always operated Western.
“Dad was forthright. When he was involved with our business, the things I thought marked Dad were that he treated people fairly and he is a man of integrity,” reflects Bob. “I have tried to emulate what he showed us.”
Dick agrees and adds, “Hard work is part of the equation. Plus, we have a genuine interest in the welfare of our employees. We try to stand by our employees, and that’s the result of Dad’s influence.”